by Kelsey Hamlin
A so-called “emergency rally” was formulated as a Facebook event within the same week of its event date (Sunday, Jan. 29), but the emergency was exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s executive order, barring those from “particular countries” on immigrant, student, or employment visas from entering the United States — even if they were already living and working here, or were already approved after completing the tedious visa process.
The rally had accumulated so many people at Westlake Park that the crowd extended far beyond, spilling out onto streets blocks away. While speakers were taking their rounds at Westlake, one couldn’t hear a word they said if standing on Pine, 4th Avenue, or beyond.
Priti Bhattaran was standing in the crowd on 4th Avenue. She works for iLEAP, an international company that partners with others to formulate leadership. One of Bhattaran’s Syrian coworkers had just left to visit another country.
Syria is listed as one of the “particular countries” in the executive order to be barred from entry for 90 days after the order, along with Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. Refugees are barred for 120 days, and Syrian refugees, in particular, are barred indefinitely.
“It would make a huge impact on the work we do,” Bhattaran said, who herself is an immigrant.
She talked about how burdensome it is to get a visa for the United States.
“It’s so thorough,” Bhattaran commented. “It’s ridiculous they’re saying they need more vetting.”
Indeed, getting a visa can take up to ten years.
“We came to America because it was a land of immigrants, and thought we’d be accepted here,” she said. “We’ve been through so much to get this green card, only to be questioned again.”
While Bhattaran felt Trump has been tone deaf thus far, she hopes he will see that people aren’t happy with his administration’s decisions.
“This is not in our national interest,” Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal yelled to the crowd from the stage. The audience close enough to hear broke out in an uproar while those farther away could be heard chanting “no ban, no wall!”
Jayapal was at the SeaTac airport the night before where people were being detained.
Western District of Washington Judge Thomas Zilly issued a temporary stay, halting deportation. At the same time, across the country, the American Civil Liberties Union won their case in Brooklyn, New York where Judge Ann Donnelly issued a stay.
After these orders and hours of protest that culminated in an estimated 3,000 people at the SeaTac airport, two of the six people being detained were released and allowed U.S. entry. The other four were about to be sent back to their place of departure, but as a plane was ready to leave the runway, it was turned around upon Zilly’s order, and two of the four were pulled off the plane. It remains unclear where they are being held.
“There’s no reason to think those people are in the Detention Center [in Tacoma],” Jayapal said Sunday night.
Off in the distance stood Jalissa Gray who had previously worked at a food bank in Tukwila, Wash.
“I had a lot of personal interactions with refugees and the homeless and saw firsthand the obstacles they had to go through, and I sympathize with that,” she said. “I feel like it’s important for everyone to come together on these issues. This election made me feel like it’s my responsibility.”
Gray, age 27, is in a band called The Fat Massive (the band name is temporary), and she wants more creative people, like artists and musicians, to start taking a stand with their work.
“We can use artwork to expose ways we can come together,” she said. “I think amplifying our differences isn’t something we need right now. It seems like people are just frustrated with the status quo, and ignorance, and people not being able to be sympathetic.”
Only 45 minutes into the rally, the crowd was getting amped up and antsy. The chants from the back were overcoming the speakers on stage. Some were getting frustrated, and a lady in the distance yelled, “a Black woman is still speaking!”
Later on, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant took the stage. She, too, was at SeaTac the night before. There are videos on Periscope and photos showing police pepper spraying protesters, and pushing them back.
“I saw police from various jurisdictions harassing peaceful protesters,” she said. “Is this acceptable [The crowd screamed ‘no!’]? Seattle is a sanctuary city.”
Sawant then went on to say Seattle is embracing the threat of taking away federal funding, as Trump has said that sanctuary cities will be cut off from receiving federal money.
At one point, a young Somali immigrant woman who has been in Seattle since 1997 took the stage. Her name is Hodan Mohamed.
“I am not going to give in to identity politics, we deserve respect because we’re humans” Mohamed said. “Trump’s islamophobic, anti-Black platform is not out of left field, it’s a core American value. It comes from a nation that has not outlawed the KKK but calls the Black Lives Matter movement a terrorist group.”
Mohamed then went on to explain how she gets treated as a Black Muslim, often harassed and told to go back to her country.
“Want to know where that’s most likely to occur?” she angrily questioned the audience. “Right here, in between Starbucks and Sephora.”
Following that statement, Mohamed went on to explain how not only does this happen on a regular basis, but the people, Seattleites, walking by and hearing this happen do nothing.
Then Ardo Hersi took the stage, announcing that the organizers told her there wasn’t time for her to speak that night.
“I guess this organization cares more about politicians than they do about the people impacted,” Hersi called out.
Happening in tandem with all of this weekend’s events, Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart and publicly-acknowledged neo-Nazi, was made the head of the U.S. National Security Council, a force that deals mostly with citizen surveillance, the internet, and the killing of American citizens without due process.
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Kelsey Hamlin is a reporter with South Seattle Emerald, and interned with the publication this summer. She has worked with various Seattle publications. Currently, Hamlin is a University of Washington student, and the President of the UW Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists. Hamlin is a journalism major at the University of Washington with interdisciplinary Honors, and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see her other work on her website.
Featured image by Alex Garland